A Wedding Story: A Romantic Look at Galician Culture

Forward

This blog post will definitely read more like a story, a lengthy story, which is why it also merits a forward. My initial intention was to write another post highlighting Galicia as a travel destination, as well as its culture; yet another love sonnet to this land that I love during these strange times of uncertainty. Mostly, the uncertainty of if we will be able to return to this terra celta this summer. However, I was struggling to capture the sentiment I wanted to; this feeling the Galicians call “morriña da terra,” a nostalgia and homesickness for their land. Lately I had also been flipping through pictures of our wedding as our first anniversary approaches, and the story of our wedding, and past Galician weddings-and all the cultural nuances and anecdotes that accompany them – came pouring out of me. It’s difficult to write about your own wedding day from a strictly cultural lens, so pardon me if this reads on the sentimental side as I present a new kind of love letter to Galicia: la boda!

2019

A year ago today, June 29, 2019, I awoke with a throbbing sore throat. Of course, the day of my wedding would inevitably throw unexpected obstacles at me, but I hadn’t expected a respiratory virus to be one of them. I threw back some ibuprofen, showered and popped a throat lozenge before heading out walk to my hair appointment. Fearing that the day was off to an unlucky start, I opened the hotel door of Hotel Pontes de Eume into the brisk, cool morning. Sunny, clear skies with a high of 72 degrees… the ideal wedding weather- no signs of rain or even a trace of humidity. Still, my throat seared as I strode down the main road to the center of town. It was quite early still, I passed only a few people; old men reading the paper and drinking espresso at the cafe, a few ladies gathered near the chapel, but no one else. The town was quiet and peaceful. As I crossed through the park, past the street where my in-laws lived, I skipped a step as I heard a rooster crow nearby. Skipped, but landed gracefully, smiling as a new calm washed over me. I hadn’t heard that rooster for five years, since my very first morning in this town-the morning I attended my very first Galician wedding. It was a sign. Everything was going to be alright. My throat was on fire but it was going to be a good day, a perfect day.

2014

They say if you really want to get to know a culture: attend a wedding, or a funeral. Given the choice, I’d take the wedding. In August of 2014, on my second day in Galicia- jet-lagged and overwhelmed by how little Spanish I actually knew- I attended a Galician wedding.  (My second day as an adult- I’m not including my high school Spanish trip in this case). Now, Spanish weddings in general are unique enough from American ones to leave an impression, but Galician weddings go the extra mile and will leave your idea of a wedding changed forever. They’ll also leave you completely enchanted with Galicia; its culture, its food, its people. 

On the morning of my first Galician wedding, I awoke to a rooster crow. It was my very first morning in As Pontes, a town I would soon come to consider a home-away-from-home,  at my future in-laws’ flat.  I awoke confused, since we had arrived to town late the night before, and what I could recall was a small urban sprawl with small yet busy streets full of bars and cafes, and completely devoid of livestock. A small city. Yet, unless someone had a very humorous alarm clock, I had in fact heard a rooster. I showered, primped and enjoyed a coffee while my [future] mother-in-law showed me the roosters behind their building from their kitchen window, confirming the source of my wake up call.

Around 11 am, I recall stepping out into the crisp morning air as we headed to a bar to meet friends for pre-wedding drinks. Yes, you read that right: morning + pre-wedding drinks. The sky was clear, the sun was shining, but it was a high of maybe 75 with the lightest breeze. In my opinion, perfect wedding weather. Here I met even more of my (then) boyfriend’s friends before heading across the street to the church. One of the many qualities of Galicia, and Spain in general, there’s always a bar close to the church. In As Pontes there is even a bar called La Capilla (The Chapel), which yes, is steps away from the town’s center chapel, and during the summer festivals they actually attach a beer tent directly to the chapel.

2019

Fast forward five years and I am back in the lobby of Hotel Pontes de Eume, in my wedding dress, throat scorching and my voice sounding more mannish by the minute, and attempting to interpret a conversation between a taxi driver, the front desk, and my best friend also staying in the hotel, slightly delayed by her jet-lagged hangover. Was today really going to work out? Was the rooster crow really a good omen? Clouds creeped into the horizon as I saw my friends off in the cab and waited with my parents for the classic car to pick us up. The classic car escort is one of my favorite parts about Galician weddings. My mom hopped into a car with my in-laws and my dad and I greeted the 1960’s Citroën Tiburón (shark!) excitedly. Off we went to the church, in true style.

After the ceremony, we took family pictures quickly and braced ourselves for a fountain of confetti as we exited the church. Shimmering confetti in every color trickled down after several loud “POP”s of the confetti cannons. “Vivan los novios!” they shouted, (long live the newlyweds) “que se besen!” they called for a kiss. We twirled around the Renaissance stone square covered in modern glitter smiling ant taking pictures, both professional and other, until my brother-in-law pulled up in our classic car to chauffeur us to the reception.

2014

Their ceremony had been much shorter, yet a full-mass, Catholic ceremony, but I mean really short. Maybe fifteen minutes. A few of the friends who sat with us up and left after the bride walked down the aisle, rejoining us later outside the church. As we waited for the bride and groom, poised with confetti and flower petals, I asked where they had disappeared to during the mass and the response was alarming and a cultural difference I still struggle to grapple: “They went to the bar. They’re atheists. They’re agnostic. They don’t believe, therefore they don’t attend”. “So they just come to party and don’t care about seeing their friends actually get married?” “Sure….it’s no big deal” he added, seeing my perplexed expression.  Years later, I had to come to terms with this and explain to my own family and friends (some Jewish, many agnostic) who had traveled across the ocean to attend our wedding, that if this happened, his friends were in fact not being rude, it was just how it was. 

2019

And on the day, I have to admit, I didn’t notice a thing about who came and who went, or even who was ever at the ceremony. The church doors opened and I saw our wonderful family and friends, but most of my attention was focused on my groom, as well as the adorable flower girls poking their way down the aisle in front of my father and I. I was focused on the priest, attempting to make the mass bilingual and trying to hide my facial expressions in response to his English skills. I was focused on the intricate baroque details of the 18th century church and the odd yet mystical dragon lanterns that adorned the alter. I was focused on the gut-wrenchingly beautiful aria of the singers, whom I had no part in choosing, chanting Ave Maria from the balcony, filling the stone walls with their full and pure voices. I was focused on how long the mass was, despite us requesting the short version, and wondered how many of my friends had fallen asleep behind me. I was focused on reading my catholic vows in Spanish, into a microphone, with my now barely audible scratchy and deep voice. I was focused on my wedding dress, stiff  and scratchy and wondered why no one had ever advised to try sitting in a wedding dress before deciding to buy it. I was focused on saying “Si, quiero” to the love of my life, and kissing my best friend before our friends and family.

2014

Perhaps it worked out that some friends escaped the mass sooner, or maybe it was all part of the plan for them to prepare the confetti cannons. We joined them and were given our own cannon and a cone of flower petals and we joined the masses in hooting and shouting “Vivan los novios!” and tossing confetti and flowers as the newlyweds walked out of the church.  They left in a flurry of sparkling pink rain on a horse and buggy and off to take pictures.

The rest of us hopped on a shuttle bus to get to head to the town of Villalba for the reception at Hotel & Spa Attica21 Villalba. A quick fifteen minute drive from As Pontes, the tiny town of Villalba turned down a long, rural side road. It twisted around until a quaint yet modern Hotel came into view. We were directed through the lobby and out onto a brick patio where we found an open bar, and smorgasbord of tapas: Galician empanada, a whole table of Galician cheeses and charcuterie with man carving jamón slices, scallops, zamburiñas (smaller scallops), octopus… all calling our hungry selves to shove our faces. “Careful” Adrian said, “you have a big dinner coming”… yet the girl who started with pre-wedding drinks at 11 am was desperate to get some food in her stomach, and I continued grazing on my first real taste of Galician cuisine just as a mariachi band started up and the happy couple took to the outdoor dance floor.

2019

“Careful,” I told my friend’s mom as she shoved another piece of queso gallego into her mouth, “there’s a fairly large dinner ahead of you, pace yourself! I made the same mistake at my first Galician wedding”. She swallowed and thanked me for the heads up, thinking that she had to wait until “Spanish time” for dinner to be served.

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We had just entered the same brick patio from the lawn. Everyone had arrived about an hour beforehand and was already helping themselves to a second and third drink, and tapping their feet along to the Celtic sounds of the Grupo Gaitero. The clouds that loomed before had completely cleared and the sun was shining as we rounded the corner of the hotel. Our wedding coordinator Alberto (don’t be impressed, he came with the venue) cut the live bag pipe and cued our entrance music, Chris Brown’s “Forever” (sorry not sorry, we are Office fans…but relax, there was no flash mob dance). The party had officially started, and despite the day heating up, my first move was to ask Alberto for the kitchen to make a hot tea to sooth my throat. I alternated sips of tea with an icy mojito and wondered why wedding dresses had to weigh so much as the sun beat down on the patio. We mingled and mixed and enjoyed the traditional Galician live music before heading into the main reception room to be seated for dinner.

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Here, the “head” table was simply ourselves and our parents. Wedding parties, bridesmaids and groomsmen, are not part traditionally part of Spanish weddings, and it’s a tradition we followed. Our closest friends sat contently with the rest of our friends and family at their respective tables and we sat with the people we owed it all to: our parents. My mom unfolded her napkin as she sat down beside  me and picked up the “menu,” and a wave of memories hit me as she asked me the same thing I asked when I first saw a menu in this same room.

2014

“Can you help me with translating the menu? I don’t know which dish to choose,” I whispered to Adrian. It made no difference to whisper as none of his friends around us spoke any English, and immediately he burst out laughing and repeated what I asked him in Spanish to the rest of the table. Joining him in a fit of laughter, he hurried to ease my flushed face by explaining, “you don’t need to choose anything. This is a list of all the five courses you will be served today.” FIVE COURSES? I guess I shouldn’t have shoved my face with so many tapas just moments ago on the patio.

The next two-three hours were consumed by more food than I had seen in my life. And each course was served with what was years later at our own wedding described as “hype music” by our American friends. As the first dish of langostinos, prawns, were served Adrian and his friends raised their napkins and whipped them around in cadence to the beat. Giant cigalas were next, a different type of prawn or crawfish. If you finished the ten you were originally served, a server would be next to you offering seconds, and thirds, of each of the first three courses. Clams were next. I had never eaten a clam. I loved seafood in general but clams always looked like giant boogers and I’d resisted them at each Cape Cod family reunion clam bake. But, when in Rome…. I dipped my fork into the clams, swimming in a garlic wine sauce and instantly patted myself on the back for my culinary bravery. Years later at our own menu tasting, it was these clams I insisted be a part of our own five course menu.

2016

The same clams were served at a different venue at the wedding of our friends Ana and Fonsi. After the clam dish and before the main fish course, the music changed but not to the usual hype music signaling the next course. Instead a playful ballot streamed as the bride and groom tiptoed sneakily around the room. They had gifts for a surprise set of specific people. Unbeknownst to us, we were the recipients of one of these gifts. The photographer followed them like glue as they presented us with a gift of our own little whimsical bride and groom cake topper. We kissed them each and the table of friends cheered around us. Another couple from the table was selected for a similar gift. Later I learned that these gifts meant that the newlyweds were choosing who they wanted to get married next. A fresh and more intentional alternative to the bouquet toss.

2019

We decided on a combination of traditions at our own wedding. We presented a couple that we knew would be next, with my bouquet. We also gave Adrian’s brother a gift set to his favorite-the Simpson’s theme songs, and then both our our parents received gifts as well.

After the fish course, an aperitif is served. A sorbet with liquor situation. I had chosen the “mojito” option for our wedding to cleanse our pallets prior to the beef dish that I would not be eating. Not only because I cannot eat steak, but also because I was already too full and sitting in a stiff wedding dress. And I also knew, the eating and consuming was not finished. There was dessert, coffee and more alcohol coming.

After we cut the cake, with a sword- yes a sword, we were sat in chairs in front of a projection screen as the rest of the room was offered chupitas– shots of fancy liquor- liquor de cafe, liquor de hierbas, liquor de crema. The projector reeled a cute and original video made by Adrian’s doting friends from As Pontes, an endearing tradition among friends that they had kept in tact for each others weddings, all thirty of them participating in the video in some way.

When the marathon dining had finally come an end, around eight or nine at night, we were ushered outside to the patio. The roof had been removed an exposed to the early evening sky, a soft periwinkle aglow with the recently set sun. The DJ started up, the bar opened, the Photo Booth was poised, it was time to party. And party we did. All the food consumed had been fuel for a night of endless dancing ahead of us. The DJ was very involved in getting everyone to start dancing, and getting everyone to come together. Friends from the US that had traveled to be with us, some Spanish themselves and at their first Galician wedding, some American, mixing with friends from As Pontes, mixing with friends who lived in Spain but used to live in Rochester, friends we hadn’t seen in years. Its a wonderful feeling to see people from different points in your life come together on your wedding day. We felt it at our Rochester ceremony with a different crowd too, but somehow everything about this night seemed special.

The music evolved as the sky darkened and the stars came out. Electronic beats echoed through the open air and the patio transformed into a clubby dance floor. Fireworks lit up the sky at some point after I had given up on my rigid wedding dress which was stifling my dance moves and changed into a white sun dress. I was happy that we had the Rochester wedding to play all the classic American wedding songs so that my parents didn’t feel like they had missed out on that ideal of a wedding reception. But around 3 am when the DJ started playing classic rock music “for the father of the bride,” my dad jumped in the crowd and couldn’t be torn away from any of the European deejaying that followed. My mother ended up falling asleep on a sofa in the lobby waiting for him. Late night snacks were served, more coffee, Galician fiollas (crepes), and yet people were still ordering Puerto de Indias gin and tonics. The dancing got progressively more sweaty and jumpy (for lack of a better word) and yet everyone was joining in. Eventually I escorted both my parents to their room around 4:30 in the morning,  but not before we took a massive group photo with the Photo Booth to capture the evening’s magic.

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That is my lasting impression of all Galician weddings I have attended. From my first one in 2014, as an outsider, one of the only attendees from outside Galicia, outside of Spain, I still felt included and part of the wedding. Galicians are the very best hosts, they make you feel welcome, they bring you in, they encourage you to join them and adapt to their impressive party endurance. They bring people together. After all, that’s really all you can ask for at your wedding- all the people you both love coming together, enjoying themselves and celebrating along with you right until 5:30 in the morning.

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